Monday, March 31, 2014

Shamrocks & Despots

To reorient myself to “A Thousand Plateaus,” I went back to the Introduction and skimmed D&G’s discussion of the rhizome. 

A small digression: years ago a woman gave me a single shamrock rhizome.  I had a small tree in a large pot, and decided to put a shamrock rhizome into the pot with the tree. From time to time I dig out rhizomes to cull them. I didn’t worry about killing the shamrocks, and I didn’t want to, I knew that if I left any bit of a rhizome in there, a whole new system of rhizomes would emerge. The tree and the shamrocks thrive until I get a kitten who claims the pot as a litter box. Then everything starts dying and I give up on the whole mess. When I clean out the pot, I discover that the shamrock rhizomes were so embedded and clumped into the root system I couldn’t possibly have extricated them without damaging the tree. In fact, had the cat not peed on it, the rhizomes probably would have choked the root system and killed the tree.

Having a concrete example of the concept went a long way in appreciating D&G’s thinking. They write that “A rhizome may be broken, shattered at a given spot, but it will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines” (A Thousand Plateaus, 10).

What I tried to do as I did this week’s reading was look for where the idea of the rhizome reappeared. One such area where I thought it might be in operation is in what he calls the “despotic state.” He correctly asserts that Marx didn’t know what to do with it, it doesn’t have an historical breaking point and “has no place in the famous five stages” (Anti-Oedipus, 218-19). The despotic state will “return under other guises and conditions” (220).

And, while the despot is “submerged” by decoded flows, he too behaves like a rhizome in that he returns in different forms. The flows “democratize him, segmentalize him, monarchize him, and always internalize and spiritualize him” (223). While identifying a despot in the form of a person is fairly straightforward, I’m interested in the despots and despotic states that don’t manifest in a specific individual. Although D&G identify ways in which the capitalist state and the despotic state diverge (the capitalist machine times is diachronic, the despot machine is synchronic), I am considering ways in which they might converge.

Are we at the end of Capitalism, and if so, what comes next?

This is one question Anne and I plan to raise in our discussion tonight. If Capitalism has reached a "terminal state" of delirium, as Deleuze says in the "Capitalism and Desire" chapter of Desert Islands, with a vast ocean of schizophrenic flows and growing/changing desires bubbling under the surface, then is it poised to break through the cracks? Or will capitalism continue to successfully push against this end point/absolute limit? Capitalism's inherent contradiction (reiterated by D&G in their collaborative work) is that the system promotes increasing flows, connections, and desires, yet they are governed by the rules of monetary/commodity exchange, or by the unwritten moral code of the state.  (The mouth-breast connection, which enhances sexual desire and pleasure, is steered towards marriage, family, and reproduction.)  At the same time, one could argue that capitalism continually improves itself by absorbing and adopting our changing desires -- sexual, economic, cultural, personal -- into the system. D&G suggest that capitalism, like fascism, is a structurally flawed system of savage repression that will soon crumble and be replaced by something new. But if capitalism is the most humanistic and transparent option out there, maybe the end is much farther away.

Also, I've been thinking about recent examples of these schizophrenic "leaks."  To me, examples of more patently chaotic or anarchic flows would be things like identify theft (hacking into Target), NSA and other forms of wiretapping, and the mortgage-backed securities fraud that caused the  recent financial collapse. The mortgage fraud, by the way, speaks directly to Marx's prediction that money will replace the commodity as the key factor in the equation, going from M-C-M to M-M.  D&G expand this analysis, suggesting that the dual role of banks -- providing free credit to consumers, yet also financing new capital for business owners -- is where capitalism "goes wonky" and crosses into a new threshold. (Deleuze says that Marxist thinkers need to study the role of banks in neo-capitalism as much as commodity and labor are studied.)  Still, I think there are some examples of "schizo-flows" that speak to our human desire to maximize our potential and life experience in more positive ways. These would include: legality of homosexual marriage (expanding the definition of nuclear family), digital libraries and humanities projects, social media, sharing and downloading music (starting with Napster, moving to I-Tunes and Pandora), and internet philanthropy websites like Kickstarter, which help people raise money for small business or projects.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Who cares what it means, what does it do?

I think one of the great ironies of the discipline of communication is that while many of the scholars we turn towards – most notably Burke –  would deny that a word can ever represent a concept, the linkage between word and think/thought is central to how we teach language in our basic courses.   I found the explanation of Lyotard on page 204 of Anti-Oedipus (both on the top of the page, and in the footnote) as a useful way to help explain how language does/cannot serve a representative function.

                Specifically, I think the idea that applying a word to a thing reveals a hidden concept useful for also linking explain the power function of language.  When the label dog is applied to the thing curled next to me on the couch, the term fails to either describe everything that is a dog, nor does it encapsulate the unique character of my dog.  Rather it speaks to the hidden agreement of the social value and use of dogs.   In this way, the word does not convey meaning so much as affirm/enact a specific definition of what ought to be.   While this may be a simple concept, and a simple explanation, I think the work done to break the intrinsic link between the signifier and the signified is one that we need to take more to heart.  It is easy to fall back on a representational understanding of language, but this is not a particularly useful exercise as representation is truly impossible.  So in my basic courses, I will try to talk less about what words mean, and more about what they do.

Some thoughts on Ideolo...erm, Organizations of Power

One of the most useful considerations in my read of DeLeuze and Guattari surrounds their discussion of ideology. Although most clearly laid out in “On Capitalism and Desire,” the authors’ conceptualization—or rather, renunciation--of the notion is foundational to the larger project.

I have, admittedly, let myself become stuck on McCloskey’s declaration that “Gramsci is where it’s at” (direct quotation, I’m not nearly cool/tenured enough to use that phrasing myself, even in a blog post), because he presents ideology as the “froth.” DeLeuze and Guattari do an enviable job of explaining how some might take this to be the case, as well as potential faults in such reasoning.

These types of arguments are a “perfect way to ignore how desire works on the infrastructure, invests it, belongs to it, and how desire thereby organizes power: it organizes the system of repression.” (p. 264). If the ideology is immaterial, “smoke and mirrors,” then discussion and debate offer meaningful solutions to injustice. If, on the other hand, what we call ideology conceals a great network of material constraints, no amount of talk—or action against ideology, for that matter--can lead to substantive change. DeLeuze and Guattari argue instead that, “there is no ideology, there are only organizations of power” (p. 263). Power is quite happy to be dismissed as simply ideological, rather than a system or structure of oppression and discipline itself.

Apparatuses of capture have mastered manipulation of particular social mechanisms—from somewhat obvious systems of power—churches, schools, judicial systems, the family—to those that seem somehow less open to impact—literature, technology, philosophy, language, individual feelings of restraint or obligation. In doing so, apparatuses of capture operate nearly transparently, under the veil of that which is “only ideology.” People are not controlled overtly, through brute physical force or vernacularly conceived violence, but rather through imposing (seemingly natural) limits on the individual.

By writing off as ideological those aspects of an apparatus that do become visible, systems of organization are protected. Gangs of restless peasants and marauding youths are less likely to strike against the Church if they are fighting on behalf of it (p. 270). Ideology is not smoke and mirrors. Nor is it froth. What we call ideology is not used by power, but rather, it is, in itself, a compelling organization of power, controlling, directing, and disciplining citizens. 

The Fun of Schizoanalysis

Just like last semester, I hated reading and responding to Deleuze and Guattari. Not because of its difficulty—although that didn’t help—but because of the frustration I feel when I constantly realize how intelligent their analysis is.

I first created a post that rejected their notion of language being only for translation and not communication (A Thousand Plateaus 430), by focusing on the Pirahã people, whose language does not have (nor need) numbers. Such a language, then, could only be used for communication within the language; you couldn't successfully translate a large part of English into Pirahã because it’s such a primitive language. But I realized that even though the two languages clash with translation, translation is still the key to communicating through both languages. D&G are not wrong, then, because even a language spoken by only a few hundred people is used for both communication and translation, just the latter is apparent less frequently.

This also occurred with the impossibility of incest. Reading through the Dogon myth and D&G’s interpretation, I was thinking exactly what they later address: of course there is incest. But their explanation of how person and names are required for incest, yet there can only be one or the other, clarifies another issue that most readers are sure to raise. We have to buy into this thinking to prove the impossibility, but they successfully make their case in a convincing manner. 

I also wrote a response based on D&G’s understanding of the limits of capitalism. On my first read, I thought they departed quite severely from the kind of limit I always thought inherent to capitalist expansion. Quoting Rosa Luxemburg’s Accumulation of Capital and Slavoj Žižek’s Parallex View, I thought I cornered D&G’s conception of limits to an understanding of capitalism that ventures too far from capitalism's starting point. Rereading these passages closely, though, I realized that they’re discussing the same immanent limit as Luxemburg—a “natural economic impasse of capital’s own creating;” that, at a certain point, “the conditions for the accumulation of capital…become the conditions for the decline of capitalism” (Ch. 32)—and translating this idea into the language of codes and flows. D&G’s treatment of these limits reflect the traditional notions of an ever-expanding exterior limit (schizophrenia) that is never fully reached (Anti-Oedipus 250), as well as the Luxemburgian limit that “capitalism itself produces,” and which “it never ceases to displace and enlarge” (Anti-Oedipus 256). What I thought contradicted with Žižek’s idea—that “if we take away the [inherent contradiction of capitalism], the very potential thwarted by this obstacle dissipate[s]” (266)—was D&G’s notion of a “displaced interior limit,” which creates the opportunity for the Oedipal triangle and the rest of their schizoanalysis.

So while this response took hours to write and ultimately didn't say anything new about D&G, I wanted to highlight the unique (and frustrating) feature of reading their work: the initial desire to critique due to the transition of concepts into their schizoanalysis, followed by the realization that they've not only been there already, but have improved upon it in their own way.  

H&A; D&G

Hello everyone,
just a quick reminder that we'll do a bit more work on Dialectic of Enlightenment before turning to D&G. So the road map for tomorrow is:
1. H&A
2. Quick break
3. D&G presentation and whatever follows from it.

Please bring DoE readings with you, as well as D&G readings.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The New Yorker and Capital

Here's a blog/article by John Cassidy on a French economist (with a name out of Dickens) whose new book "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" is apparently causing a stir. It has graphs, one of which is interestingly similar to and fascinatingly different from McCloskey's hockey stick.

Globalization & Its Discontents in International Cinema: Pre-session summer course ENG 813

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Independent German Films at the Ross

Films made outside the dominant mode of (film) production, or how films looks when exploitation isn't just exploitation of others (mostly friends) but also massive self-exploitation: a labor of love :)

I'd love to see you at one or both of the screenings. Please help me spread the word. Thanks.

WHEN: Saturday 4/12, 715p & Sunday 4/13, 305p. The filmmaker will be in attendance at both events. He will give brief introductions to his short films throughout the program and will be available for a Q&A afterwards.
WHERE: Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center

In the fall of 2011, the Ross first introduced Nebraska to a group of German filmmakers that are collectively known as the Cologne Group when it screened the “Westend” film cycle by Markus Mischkowski and Kai Maria Steinkühler. Bernhard Marsch is another key filmmaker of this group—indeed, he’s a Cologne Group filmmaker of the first hour, with his earliest filmmaking efforts hearkening back to the mid-1980s.

The Cologne Group
The Cologne Group had its beginnings in the mid-1980s, when Marsch and Reiner Knepperges first met at the University of Cologne. Having discovered their common cinematic preferences, these two autodidacts decided in 1987 to make Marsch and Knepperges Present, which was Marsch’s second foray into (short) filmmaking. The film’s DIY, cinephilic attitude pointed the way for many Cologne Group films to come, not least for Marsch’s own. For as simple as this documentary effort is in terms of its production values, structure, and content, it constitutes an early example of the desire of the group in general, and Marsch in particular, to engage their own city and its many interesting yet under-represented locales, such as its relaxed bar scene (Café Contact) and bustling student food joints (8 Meals No.3), its outdoor swimming pool culture (Young Dogs and Hallelujah), or its quarry ponds and the temptation to skinny dip on a rare warm and sunny summer’s day (Naked at the Lake). This documentary specificity differentiates these films from the majority of post-wall German film productions, which predominantly eradicate their geographical, and thus socio-cultural, specificity. Yet, Marsch’s films are precisely not “topic-of-the-day,” message-driven films; instead, they seek to realize cinema at its most light-hearted, which has led one critic to write that they exude a “lightness” of being and constitute “invitations[s] to flit.” Indeed, when watching these films it’s hard to escape the feeling that they’re on some basic level all about flirting, indeed, about being in love, including, crucially, with their chosen medium of expression itself (Cologne Movements). It’s not coincidental that Marsch doesn’t display any desire to make anything other than cinema. For his autodidactic exuberance with which he approaches the cinema recalls the early films of the French New Wave and, in Germany, of the New Munich Group around Klaus Lemke, Rudolf Thome, May Spils and Werner Enke, Marran Gosov, and Roger Fritz. Like his heroes from the 1960s, Marsch can be said to embrace the famous concluding sentiment of the Oberhausen manifesto (1962)—that Daddy’s cinema is dead—only to counter it with an attitude of “Long live Daddy’s cinema!” That is, Marsch, like his friends and colleagues of the Cologne Group, eschews avant-garde attitudes and aesthetics and instead desires to entertain, to make films that appeal to an audience through their narratives and characters—characters, it must be said, whose charm frequently results from their desire to do not much of anything at all, their lack of careerist ambitions, their simple wish, that is, to just hang out and talk and have another Kölsch—and, perhaps, dream the dream of Hollywood as nothing but a dream (Café Contact). (Marco Abel, excerpted and modified from his essay, “Underground Film Germany in the Age of Control Societies: The ‘Cologne Group’,” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 27.2 [2010])

Bernhard Marsch
“The rhizomatic oeuvre of Bernhard Marsch, a total filmmaker par excellence, constitutes a special cinema-micro cosmos unto its own. Simply put: his cinema miniatures open a viewer’s heart. Perhaps this is due to the mix of nostalgia and a spirit of optimism or departure that characterizes his films; it is certainly due to the poetry and drive that permeates his work. Added to this is his precise and loving gaze at the seemingly trivial. With his short films, Marsch in a sense writes a minor history of Germany from the margins: a trash-history, a Ramsch-history (“Ramsch” [junk or trash] is the name of his film production company). One only has to watch a music video clip such as Mauerblümchen, a mini-melodrama about former East Germany and larger-than-life longing at the Baltic Sea, in order to be enchanted by spotted images, by landscapes and stories. Marsch is without a doubt an impressionist of German sensitivities, an ethnographer of the by-products of love and life. His first filmic effort dates from 1986: Kölner Bewegungen is something like a Cologne mini-version of Berlin: Symphony of a Great City. What lingers is especially the neon sign “Köln – 4711,” which flashes through the night and turns the film into a Cologne noir. Marsch and his colleagues have a sensibility for the aura of signs. In Marsch and Knepperges Zeigen from 1987, one can frequently see the marquee of the Cologne cinema Filmpalette. Written on it: “Nonstop film program.” This comes across as poetically rebellious in the context of a film that documents the Filmpalette’s last screening: Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour runs as last picture show. The young viewers, among them Marsch and Knepperges, drink beer, talk, and ask questions of the cinema’s old owner. Everything’s a lived B-picture; everything’s detour.
Some of Marsch’s films are ensemble films, boys-films in the tradition of the Munich school of the 1960s (Lemke, Thome, Gosov). In 8 Essen III from 1996, perpetual students converse in the University of Cologne’s central refectory about women, the relationship between East and West Germany, and the course of time. In 1992’s Junge Hunde or the love-thriller Nackt am See from 2010, Marsch indulges his fondness for public outdoor swimming pools and lakes that for him represent everyday oases like cinemas or Mischkowski’s kiosks, where everything and nothing can happen. Halleluja from 1995 is a tremendously comical road movie set in the early 1980s on the streets between Cologne and Hennef. A stoned Bhagwan couple hitch a ride in a VW beetle driven by a guy who is played by Marsch himself. The two hippies have their eyes set on the old VW, figuring the driver to be a greenhorn. In reality, however, he is a savvy desperado. At one time in the film, we see him driving through Marsch’s hometown, Hennef. A local cinema is screening Summer Night Fever, a trash film by Sigi Götz, a pseudonym for Sigi Rothemund, which he used for his countless sex- and disco films. Ever since Halleluja used this reference, a small cult developed between Cologne and Munich around Sigi Götz and all the psychedelic moments scattered throughout the history of German cinema.

Marsch’s [most personal film] to date is Wohnhaft from 2004 (the title has to be understood as a double-entendre: the guys from Cologne love word play). Inspired by Ulrich Schamonie’s Chapeau Claque, Marsch guides us through his own small apartment in Cologne-Ehrenfeld that is filled to the brim with records, books, newspapers, and all kinds of memorabilia. The apartment resembles a grandiose art installation and presents an act of rebellion against any kind of “beautiful living” marketing discourse. While the camera searchingly glides through the collector’s labyrinth with an ethnographic attitude, we hear Marsch talking with his idol Werner Enke from the off about rooms and cleaning up—a wonderful dialogue about cinema and life, history and stories.” (Excerpt from Hans Schifferle, “Something New by the “Cologne Group: Cine-desperados from the Rhine—The Cologne Group and Their Lived Cinema,” translated by Marco Abel)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Thomas Frank

Just saw this piece by Thomas Frank (the same TF by whom I included a couple of essays as suggested readings for the Adorno unit) on B. Clinton, B. Obama, the Democrats, and the politics/rhetoric of "hope":

Friday, March 21, 2014

Marxism and Networked Culture

Jodi Dean, who was a “Humanities on the Edge” lecturer in fall 2011, posted a link to an interesting essay by Bruce Robinson in which he criticizes her (and Bifo) for their “too extreme takes on social media.” It’s worth a read.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Writing Projects for the course

Hello everyone,
I just want to send out a brief note of encouragement to keep me in the loop about the writing projects you are thinking about doing for this course. As you know you had different options (the standard long seminar paper, conference papers, or a series of shorter papers, or for that matter a combination). A few of you have updated me on your plans, but for me it'd be desirable to hear from more of you (in fact, from all of you). Think of me as someone to bounce ideas off of, no matter what you're working on; I may or may not have something to say that might help you deciding on or developing an already ongoing project. In any case I don't think you've got anything to lose by keeping me in the loop.

If I don't see you before the break--have a great one!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Imre Szeman Readings

The readings for our post-spring break HotE meeting with Imre Szeman are now up on Blackboard under Course Readings.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Updating Frank's essays

While I agree with Frank's arguments in both articles, and I think they still hold true in conversations about today's internet/social media culture, his ideas and premises are certainly less controversial or eye-opening than they would have been in the mid-90s. By the way, wouldn't it be fun to do a "where are they now" piece based on all the actors and musicians he mentions? For example, Henry Rollins, the Black Flag lead singer -- whom Frank notes had been studied for his unique "branding" (before this was even a word) back in the 90s -- is now doing the voice-overs for Infiniti car commercials. And Pearl Jam, whom I think he unfairly criticizes, are still touring and making records. As a college student in the mid-90s who read Rolling Stone and followed the movements of pop culture, I think bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam were the most reluctant "pop stars" maybe in the history of music. I mean, both Cobain and Eddie Vedder were incredibly reclusive. Pear Jam even sued Ticketmaster for monopolizing concert tickets and setting high prices because they had no competition. By the same token, Frank is right that many bands, actors, and artists used this 90s, counter-culture, reluctant-rebel image to sell themselves and become famous.

Frank's premise that capitalism has swallowed up the counter-culture image. This was certainly the case during the tech boom, when internet-startups were considered maverick and renegade businesses that paid no attention to balance sheets and accounting rules. And, of course, they've also swallowed up this new Generation Y's attachment to FB and Twitter, and their heroes like Bieber, Miley, and Taylor Swift. I think the only difference is the speed with which capitalism can now adapt to changes in pop culture.

One last point:  When Frank says "nobody wants you to think they're serious today,"  where and how does this movement end.  That is, do people start rebelling by becoming more serious, more earnest than ironic?  I think we've already seen this in the new Eco-Food movement, where a substantial number of young people have quit their corporate/urban/tech lives to move to the country and grow their own food and live more simply. And with recent films like Nebraska, The Fighter, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and others, I think we're seeing a change towards more straightforward narratives and more earnest storytelling, less tied to the culture of celebrity or hipster irony.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Culture Industry

As I look closely at Adorno and Horkheimer's view in "The Culture Industry: Enlightenment and Mass Deception" I can't help but wonder if we are still living in the homogenous mass culture that the author recognize as acting through capitalism to infiltrate all aspects of the human experience. The "modern world" Horkheimer and Adorno capture in Dialectic of Enlightenment is clearly a midcentury America/western Europe where every aspect of life has been standardized to supply the needs of all citizens in the same way. I'm thinking of the post-war suburbanization. The 1950s kitchenette and nuclear family. Every person will need shoes, so tennis shoes are mass produced. Every person needs a private home with a pool and a washing machine; and the suburb is born, changing the way Americans lived, communicated with their neighbors, grocery shopped, and even how they saw themselves. Bubblegum pop captures the "cyclically rigid invarients" of culture (98). The argument that the prism of the culture industry that colors all things is ultimately bound to the author's time and place, and, obviously, they cannot be wrong. Even over 50 years later we're still walking around in a web of mass produced objects made endlessly available by capital.
Further, I am inclined to sympathize with their distinction between amusement and culture and how the modern world has conflated, packaged, and sold them as one entity. Indeed, our culture (the material essence of who we are as a people) is tied to business. The culture of business and the business of culture run through us, only allowing moments of "pseudo-individuality" where "individuals are none but mere intersections of universal tendencies" and they can be "reabsorb(ed) . . . smoothly into the universal" (125). We are the apparatus by which this machine runs.
... But is that all that we do? Horkheimer and Adorno admit at the close of this chapter that we can see past the system of culture even though we engage with it. They attribute our seeming complacency to "the triumph of advertising in the culture industry: the compulsive imitation by consumers of cultural commodities which, at the same time, they recognize as false"(36).  Even now, the device I am using to write this response on seems to argue something similar. I bought this device in light of the promise it's advertising made. Of course I recognize the tactics of adds, of the culture industry, and mass production - and yet, I still engage in that system. However, does this mean that I cannot use my product to act outside of the culture industry? Does everything I write on this keyboard reflect Horkheimer and Adorno's dialectic which is both a product of capital and a recognition of capital's falsity? Is art and music and film still subversive if it's copied and sold by Target?
The problems that arise from this dialectic are, I think, playing themselves out in the self publicizing world the internet. As Chandler pointed out, we all can (even if we don't participate we technically have the means to) showcase our writing, art, and identity on the internet and therefore contribute to the mass culture instantaneously. Whether we commodifie that experience into a product to be bought and sold is case by case dependent upon the numerous ways we exchange ourselves (watching an advertisement allows the show to have a sponsor and you to "pay" by allowing the advertiser to enter your brain for a moment). This instantaneous display of identity seems more extreme, freer, than the "pseudo-individuality" in that we can react and respond to so many varied aspects of life that a singular culture is impossible. Instead, the universe is a mass of many subcultures, interacting, growing, and changing without the streamlining of a culture industry.

On Benjamin

As I read your post, I am curious as why my focus on Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in Mechanical Reproduction” primarily his take on the effect of emerging forms and functions of art.  Or rather, why I cannot get past his insightful discussion of photography and film at a time when these forms of art were not only in question, but were merely uncovering their potential. 
This is, of course, all well in discussion with being the latest works to be mechanically reproduced.  Benjamin, however, goes a step further to suggest that “for the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual.  To an ever greater degree the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility (5).  In this context, a photographic negative can reproduce a number of prints, to the point where asking for “the ‘authentic’ print,” Benjamin states, “makes no sense” (5).  I would imagine that its mechanical reproducibility would deem the work of art less “artistic,” but a more striking effect is found in “the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production,” to use Benjamin’s words, wherein “the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice—politics” (5).
It is not surprising that even in its very “exhibition value” art comes to serve new functions.  That its more familiar “artistic” function can later be deemed “incidental” is most profound change.  Benjamin “photography and the film are the most serviceable exemplifications of this new function” (6).  Our perceptions are altered by the means of the work’s reproduction, such as the distinct case in performances by the stage and screen actor: the film actor’s performance, for instance, is subjected to a series of optical tests, the first of which is the obvious transmission or mediation of the camera (7).  Rather than interacting with his audience on the stage and thus make adjustments to his performance, the film actor must reach his audience­­ through a lens.  As a result, the audience may “take the position of a critic, without experiencing any personal contact with the actor” (7).

Conversely, Benjamin suggests that “the [m]echanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses toward art” (11).  Particularly with the screen, “the critical and the receptive attitudes of the public coincide” (11).  Benjamin explains that “the decisive reason for this is that individual reactions are predetermined by the mass audience response they are about to produce, and this is nowhere more pronounced than in the film.  The moment these responses become manifest they control each other” (11).  How these responses negotiate control of one another is quite intriguing.

Dallas Buyers Club

All of the work that I am currently doing as a graduate student is informed by two interrelated assumptions: 1) that at some point being queer (a term that admittedly needs some unpacking) offered up the promise of genuine cultural resistance; and that 2) the LGBTQA (the A does not stand for Ally) community is abandoning that promise just as fast as they (we?) can get hold of marriage rights.

I believe that examining the film Dallas Buyers Club through the perspective of “The Culture Industry” illustrates how queer (yep, whatever that means) is becoming appropriated into culture. At one point, these themes were removed or hidden in American cinema. According to Horkheimer and Adorno, “The familiar experience of the moviegoer, who perceives the street outside as a continuation of the film he has just left, because the film seeks strictly to reproduce the world of everyday perception, has become the guideline of production” (99). Though I think a lot can be said and critiqued about this statement in regard to the universal tone of the claim, I do recognize that some films certainly work in this tradition. DBC contains elements that make it appear, if not authentic, then certainly credible: the film looks cheap—certainly cheaper than it probably cost to make; it involves the physical transformation of a popular actor, a known “commodity” (Holy shit, he lost a lot of weight; give that man an Academy Award!); there is a transvestite (or possibly transgender person) that must not at any point be allowed entrance into an actual house, suffers from the moral failings associated with drug addiction, is redeemed by the heterosexual male, and who must—absolutely must—die a terrified death; the evil anti-capital regulatory regime (depicted in the form of the FDA) brutalizes the entrepreneur hero; but only the white heterosexual gets to be the entrepreneur hero as the not helpful AZT medication is acquired through a series of nefarious transactions involving a racially coded drug dealer listed as only the “Hispanic Orderly.” H&A argue that such films “are so constructed that their adequate comprehension requires a quick, observant, knowledgeable cast of mind but positively debar the spectator from thinking, if he is not to miss the fleeting facts” (100). It is as though this complex and recent corner of history cannot be told without the inclusion of culture types to explain and contextualize the circumstance. In fact, I wasn’t aware until I started thinking about this post just how pro-capitalism DBG really is—right down to the name of movie.

The film deploys these common cultural tropes to supposedly relay a series of facts to the audience. The film even ends with the familiar fact statements—printed and unspoken—that explain what happened to the real people after the events of the film conclude. H&N address this situation by arguing that “through its inherent tendency to adopt the tone of the factual report, the culture industry makes itself the irrefutable prophet of the existing order” (118). While I know that Benjamin also addresses the role of technology and its complications, I keep thinking about Baudrillard and the role of the sumilacrum as distraction—specifically, the example of Watergate being a distraction from the corruption that permeates all political life. Similarly, DBC tracks away from the real issue: why do these cultural types continue to be so taken for granted?

On a similar note, I saw the preview for Devil’s Knot this week. I am utterly annoyed at the prospect of what Hollywood might do to the narrative of the West Memphis Three, which I think is the most important series of events to have taken place in this country in the last 20 years (and, yes, I am including 9/11 in that statement). I did gain some hope when I saw that Atom Egoyan is the director. Someone like Spielberg would have made a movie about a cruel injustice, when the actual events prove that justice itself is nothing but an abstraction.